Reader's Letter: Race for Calvert County Board of Education Vastly Important

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Reader's Letter: Race for Calvert County Board of Education Vastly Important

2012 Candidate for Calvert County Board of Education - 7/12/2012

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By Joe Chenelly

Most Calvert County voters going to the polls in November will be reasonably informed when voting for President, U.S. Senator and their U.S. Representative. It would be difficult by then not to know about Romney/Obama, Bongino/Cardin and O'Donnell/Hoyer. Television, radio, web, and print media will be inundated throughout the fall with campaign messages for the federal races.

I am glad for that, as it is critical our nation elects the correct people in those races. But another race on the Nov. 6 ballot is critically important to our beloved Calvert County's future. Our Board of Education will be facing some of its most challenging times in the coming years, bound to make difficult decisions that will have lasting effects on every county resident regardless of whether they have children or not.

I challenge each voter to learn about the candidates, about their views and experiences. I trust Calvert will prove that studies showing local elections are often decided simply by name recognition do not reflect how voters here make decisions. Please visit the candidates online, attend upcoming forums and debates, read about them in the local media and meet them yourselves. A good candidate will make him or herself accessible and will make it easy to find his or her views on the pertinent issues.

I have been asked why this particular race for the Board of Education is so important. After all, shouldn't we be set after putting so much effort into learning about and electing our current Board of County Commissioners two years ago? The Board of Education spends about half the county's entire budget plus another $80 million more from the state, meaning a huge percentage of your tax dollars used locally are managed by those to be elected this year.

The top foreseeable challenge our Board of Education will face in the near future is deciding how to maintain high standards and remedy a number of issues, including a less than amicable relationship with the teachers' union, on a smaller budget. Obviously, if the board fails at this monumental task, it could be disastrous for children, for staff, for property values and for the county's future.

Until this year, the Board of Education and the Board of County Commissioners had an agreed-upon funding formula in place that ensured continued, appropriate funding. The agreement on the formula expired after the fiscal year 2012 budget was built and has not been reworked. Without a funding formula, the county commissioners have no guidance other than the minimum required by state statute. Take into account the state has built something of a penalty into its Maintenance of Effort law for those counties putting more than the minimum into their school systems. Now the county must pay the same amount per pupil as it did the previous year. Plus, the amount of Maintenance of Effort was increased over last year’s base amount by the last Legislature. In fact, for all the counties in the state over the past several years, the amount the counties contributed above the Maintenance of Effort was about $6 billion. That means the state quietly but effectively cut spending for education by $6 billion across the state. Maryland also reduced state aid to education to Calvert County due to the Geographic Cost of Education Index while Calvert County increased funding to the Board of Education due to the Collaborative Grant Agreement.

On top of Maryland cutting education funding, the state has placed another huge financial burden on Calvert County by forcing it to pick up $2.8 million in teacher pension expenses in fiscal year 2013. Worse, that amount is set to nearly double over the next four years.

The next Board of Education will need to be able to work with the county commissioners to develop and agree on a new funding formula while keeping the county's new financial responsibilities in mind, along with the disincentive from the state to exceed the new Maintenance of Effort levels of funding. Again, if those who are elected in November are not very capable, the county could find itself is an even tougher spot.

The post-election Board of Education will need to examine and reexamine all possible ways to provide the best for Calvert County's children. Those board members will need to explore ways to increase efficiency, cut wasteful spending, and maybe even find new sources of funding to provide the very best for students, teachers, staff, administrators and of course the county as a whole.

The financial aspect is huge but it is not the only issue. Although our schools accomplish a great deal academically each year, the school system came up short on the latest state report for a few groups of students.The target of 80.4 percent proficiency was not met for Special Education students in both reading and math. It is equally disappointing to note that students who are African American, or receive special education services, or have limited English proficiency, or are economically disadvantaged continue to experience a lag behind other students. Every child in Calvert County deserves the best education we as a community can provide. The Board of Education will need to lead the school system to close the gaps as soon as possible while remaining financially responsible.

I hope the importance of this year's election cycle spurs meaningful conversation about the issues at hand. Educating the next generation of Calvert County's taxpayers and leaders is everyone's responsibility, and everyone stands to benefit from doing it well.

You can find out more about me now by visiting me online at http://www.ChooseJoe.com, or http://www.facebook.com/Better.Education.in.Calvert and http://twitter.com/jchenelly. Of course, I will also make myself available in person as much as possible throughout the County. Hearing from you is very important to me as I want to know your thoughts and wishes on these and other issues affecting the Calvert County Public Schools.



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